The creative spark

In the field of blockchain technology we look at start-ups to understand its value. Business as usual in handling the new creation based on the bitcoin. An inner circle of creative entrepreneurs guided by a handful of knowledgeable investors. However, the creative sparks needed to efficiently take advantage of an innovation like blockchain, have to come from the outside, and not the inside. Why does that matter? Have a quick read. It is not about technology.

A few mornings ago I literally woke up with a sparkling idea.

The night before I had failed one of my cryptography exams three times in a row (grrrr! No worries, I will pass it sooner or later). But it was a good reason to go to bed angrily at 4 a.m. in the morning. Luckily nobody was at home to try and cheer me up: mission impossible.

Six and a half hours later I dreamed about Venture Capitalists. A really bad night so to speak. But then I woke up with this enlightened feeling that I had just discovered something important.

Now, I know nothing about the circumstances in which great ideas come to life, nor do I try to analyze or understand the human brain. The ability to have sparks of creativity is one of the most distinguishing factors of humans among other living creatures. Why we get them is unknown, even to specialized scientists.

What I do like to share is the idea of nurturing creative sparks once you have them. And how you could take it from there into your line of work, which might share some common ground with blockchain technology. Why should we do something with a creative spark? Because it is a unique personal experience that can change the world! There are many examples of sudden creations in the brain of now famous people.

Who sparked off this idea?

But first: what is a creative spark and how do you recognize it when you get one? No two people are the same and I can’t look inside heads. For me a creative spark is obvious right away. It happens rarely and I recognize it because it has happened before. Not the same idea, of course, but the funny thing about the earlier moments that I seemed to “receive a message” is that I remember exactly what it was and where I was. Some of them came up forty years ago. I still see those images. Every single one of them, like a “positive trauma”. Do you recognize that? Don’t worry if you don’t. Keep in mind that we are trying to hold on to a good idea that suddenly came into your mind out of the blue and you really could get things done or make things better all set alight by that single “spark”.

A striking example: a long time ago I had a terrible crush on a great girl. I did not dare to ask her out. Even though I had been single for a few months, I kept postponing to call her (no social media back then, just the landline — what an era!). Why? Pfff… She blew me away. I could not look her in the eye, let alone say something reasonable to her. I rehearsed opening sentences, funny remarks, honest pleas, tough stands, and so on. But the fear of being rejected after a clumsy round of mumbling and stumbling, kept me from taking action … Come on, guys, am I the only one?? :-)

Anyways: one day I returned home in a good mood and I was humming a popular Dutch song and sang crucial lyrics out loud “…and the clock says ‘tick-tick’, for those who wait, always everything comes too late”. And then suddenly the creative spark went through my head! I remember exactly where I was in my apartment and the moment I walked over to the phone to dial her number (which of course I knew by heart) for the first time. I suddenly was fully aware that a girl like that would not be “single” for a long time, with or without me. To make a great story short: it is my wife that picked up the phone 21 years ago and I still have a crush on her.

What you can take away from this is: hold on to a sudden gut feeling of this magnitude and act immediately!

By the way: the idea that popped up was to ask her out to an ice skating track at night. You don’t have to talk if you don’t feel like it, you just skate a bit in circles, help each other back on their feet in case somebody falls, enjoy the atmosphere, and so on. Ice skating is a very sociable event in the Netherlands and if you mess up the conversation anyway (which is nearly impossible, but not for me), you are allowed to take a break by speeding up a bit, doing an extra round and catch up with her as soon as you feel comfortable again to continue the conversation. Super spark!

So what is the connection to blockchain? Why am I bragging about one of the very few successful first dates I had in the past? It is just an example of how to nurture a spark.

Hang on a few seconds to become fully aware of the analogy. And use it for your own purposes, specifically, but not exclusively in the field of the blockchain disruption.

Blockchain is a new phenomenon in an existing world. Important relationships are settled in known patterns, e.g. networking events. To think “out-of-box” (yep, I mean the buzz word) is hard. The box is all there is, once you have entered the blockchain arena. So you need something “from outside” to catch you by surprise and give you a true new insight; “the spark” so to speak.

An example to illustrate the dilemma and difference between sparks and ideas. Since I dreamed of Venture Capitalists recently, I will use these findings: common sense in the world of early stage start-ups and investors in particular blockchain technology start-ups.

1. Geeky entrepreneurs have ideas and build prototypes. These products sometimes lack proper user interfaces and they might also lack a thoroughly tested value proposition. To most problems, blockchain is not the solution. All insiders know that. At Consensus 2016 is was said that 400 Alt-coins vanished last year (2015). How many related firms are we talking about? How much money and energy went down the drain? Did we learn anything? Interesting that they disappeared, but I would like to know WHY they disappeared, because it is obvious they could not keep the fire burning.

2. Nerds speak at tech meetings to other nerds. With few investors present that are able to follow conversations. Blockchain tech is complex, geeky and hard to grasp, as I learned at first hand. Investors think they do not need to understand. And they are right. They know that personal features, social and entrepreneurial skills are far more important for successful growth than ideas and tech.

3. The VC’s speak about that at blah-blah fin-tech conferences that thrive on the blockchain hype. They are respected by managers and futurologist, but the techies are nowhere to be seen. They produce code in trendy Rockstart — WeWork — Fail-Fast-Recover-AtSpeedOfLight workspaces and think they do not need to blah-blah. And they are right too. In public blockchains you don’t need venture capital; you “roll your own”. Do-it-yourself crowdfunding is easy nowadays. But it is just as easy to burn money on projects that make no sense. And that is really what they need: venture knowledge

Other appearances of within-the-box thinking is that we have these pitch contests, the lion’s dens, the business plans in full color with glorious financial statements. Figures based on prudently parameterized discounted cash flow calculations and hockey stick shaped sales revenues.

We personalize and market the inevitable success that will follow. Entrepreneurs, as young as legally possible, printed in media, interviewed on TV, real life shown on youtube, broadcasted on the radio.

You hear these young birds talk maturely with a artificially lowered voice about “seeds, 1st and 2nd rounds of investments, growth scenarios, people management” and so on.

Behind that facade of a too quickly grown-up geek, there could be investors urgently waiting for ROI or at least a way to stop the bleeding in a financial perspective.

On the other hand you might hear these same old people (sorry to say so, but most investors are more or less my age ;-) ) use hip and cool language, which is — by the way — hilarious for young people to listen to. Daddy will never be one of them. My daughter wants to convince me of that. Every day.

Back on track. Why do I sketch this caricature of the investors — entrepreneurs relationship? Where is the analogy? How can we faster learn about the true value of a creative spark outside into blockchain arena. Why should we act immediately when such a change of paradigm comes to our mind? To start with the latter:

**Because things will then fall into place.**

That is why you should nurture a moment like that! It is like pieces of a puzzle that manage to find their own unique spot and you as a spectator “see” the consequences of the picture that you have to act on.

The example that I mentioned before stems from my own experience where the creative spark happened to be the ice skating activity as a way to really get to know and impress (ahem) a great girl. But there was more to that moment: the sense of urgency stressed by the lyrics of songs. The full-featured environment an evening like that would offer. The fact that both of us can skate (which comes in handy on a track) and both live close to the facility and both love a drink afterwards. You see the picture? Things fell into place.

The analogy is that in my opinion we are not looking at the optimal situation between venture capitalist and entrepreneurs. And that is when a caricature serves a purpose: to articulate a situation. The situation we are looking at is that “capital” is not really needed, and the “venture” is difficult to grasp. Start-ups with too much money get “fat” and might burn it at a dazzling rate; the ones without funds are doing stuff for a living (to pay the bills) and slow themselves down by doing so.

What kind of creative spark does the sur place between geeks and venture capitalists need in the blockchain field? To achieve a breakthrough and to do things differently? How do we recognize these ideas? And how do we recognize them in a way that makes things fall into place? I recognized a spark a few days ago and I will most probably get back to that later. Firstly I must nurture the idea a bit.

The second thing you can take away from this article is about blockchain innovation itself. When you accidentally get a creative spark about where the technology truly disrupts our (working) life in a positive way, then:

1. document it immediately

2. feed the spark right away before it vaporizes

3. don’t blend in, step away from common practice, trust the beauty of the spark.

On for the road: don’t mix up creative sparks and ideas. There are many ideas out there that unfortunately add to the blockchain hype. The problems these ideas want to solve or the solution they offer can often be implemented with regular sites, databases and files. These means are in most cases much better equipped for the job than a slow, inefficient unsustainable blockchain.

From inside “innovation as usual”, we can’t expect more than the blockchain bubble to burst at some point in the future. We need sparks from the outside to be able to address the real blockchain value.


Photo: spark —, ice skating —

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